HOUSTON — White Sox right-hander Lance Lynn has been one of baseball’s top pitchers the last three seasons.
But not against the Astros.
Not this season, not last year and certainly not Thursday, when Lynn was peppered for five runs in 3‰ innings in a 6-1 Sox loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The best of five competition shifts to Friday (1:07 p.m), with right-hander Lucas Giolito opposing Astros lefty Framber Valdez.
The Sox, who have made their World Series aspirations clear as soon as spring training, were never really in this first postseason step toward that goal. It was a disappointing and deflating beginning to their second -consecutive playoff appearance, and it started with Lynn, their All-Star right-hander who posted a spiffy 2.69 earned run average this season.
“It wasn’t good,” Lynn said. “I wasn’t making quality pitches when I needed to. I gave up some two-out runs on pitches that could have been better. That’s pretty much it.”
Lynn gave up six hits and two walks and was pulled by manager Tony La Russa with two outs in the fourth in a game that looked, with Astros righty Lance McCullers Jr. in command allowing one hit in 6‰ scoreless -innings, all but over. The 33-year-old Lynn has allowed 34 runs in 32‰ innings over his last six starts against the Astros, good for a 9.37 ERA and 0-6 record.
“They’re just deep,” Lynn said. “They battle, they don’t strike out. They pick and choose when they want to be aggressive. That’s why they’ve had the success they’ve had. From top to bottom they don’t make it easy on you.”
Leading 1-0, the Astros’ got their second run in the third inning when third baseman Yoan Moncada threw late to catcher Yasmani Grandal trying to get Jose Altuve at the plate. Moncada made a good stop on Alex Bregman’s ground ball to his left, but had a slim chance of getting Altuve after spinning around to make the throw.
Altuve, the Astros leadoff man who started the inning with a walk, had advanced to third when Grandal couldn’t keep Lynn’s bounced wild pitch in front of him. After -Altuve scored, Yordan Alvarez banged a belt-high fastball off the left-center-field wall, scoring Bregman to make it 3-0.
Michael Brantley’s two-run single in the fourth knocked out Lynn in favor of Reynaldo Lopez, who gave up a home run to Alvarez in the fifth. It was 6-0 in the fifth, and the back end of the Sox’ bullpen, perhaps the one area in which they hold an advantage over the Astros, was given a rest it didn’t need.
Lynn seemed amped up, touching 97 mph to strike out Yuli Gurriel in the second, but he needed 76 pitches, 46 for strikes, to record 11 outs. As usual, he relied on his assortment of fastballs, which can be a tricky proposition against a team that hit .290 against fastballs.
“His stuff was good,” La Russa said. “I know he wasn’t happy with the sequence of pitches. He felt like he had more to work with.”
The Sox’ lineup, meanwhile, was held to seven singles.
The Astros, in the playoffs for the fifth -consecutive season, were the AL West champs. This is the AL Central champion Sox’ second playoff appearance in a row but their first beyond the wild-card round since 2008. After getting eliminated in the wild card by the Athletics last season, management fired manager Rick Renteria and brought La Russa out of retirement to lead them deeper into the playoffs.
La Russa was asked how he would keep his team from getting frustrated and discouraged. It will need to win three of four games to advance to the ALS Championship Series.
“It’s a good question to ask because you don’t know our club,” La Russa said. “If you watch, our club doesn’t get discouraged. Tip your cap and you come out tomorrow. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll come out ready to play.”